Solo: A Star Wars Story Review
The production of Solo: A Star Wars Story was a bumpy ride. Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, best known for their comedic movies, were replaced by Ron Howard and extensive reshoots had to be done. Reportedly, the production was chaotic before Howard took over. With all this in mind, I was “bracing for impact”. However, Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t crash and burn. Solo is an action-oriented film with a good main cast. Apart from some notable scenes, most of Lord and Miller’s vision doesn’t appear to factor into the final film.
Solo works well as a character focused story with plenty of nostalgic call backs. The back story is like an extensive check list: how Han became a criminal smuggler, how he obtained the Millennium Falcon and how he met Chewbacca etc. Some of these “check marks” come off more organically than others. As an anthology film, some story strands weave into the overarching Star Wars lore. All of this is wrapped up as an elaborate heist film where Han and company must steal Coaxium, the highly volatile hyperfuel used to power faster than light ships.
Young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are indentured street thieves working for a crime syndicate. They want to escape together from planet Corellia and be free. The film’s aesthetic leans towards a grittier look. Despite some darker visuals and color palette, the film’s tone never feels grim mostly because of the sense of adventure and the characters. Han is upbeat and boisterous. At this point, Han isn’t cynical, he’s an optimistic young man saying, “I have a good feeling abut this”. Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) is a charming gambler and his female droid companion L33T is an unusual comic relief (well sort of). Further, the camaraderie between Han and Chewie is a highly enjoyable pairing and it’s endearing seeing them get to know each other.
Another aspect is that the time period in which Solo takes place is pretty bleak. This is before A New Hope and there is only inklings of a rebellion. We see that Han’s craftiness and bravado isn’t enough to get him through these times. The only rule that Han seems to follow is that he likes to break them. But even in lawless times, a maverick needs to develop his own ethos to navigate a dangerous world.
Han’s biggest influence is his criminal mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Despite some admirable qualities, Beckett is the older man which Han shouldn’t let himself become. Han is figuring out how to adapt Beckett’s outdated belief system in way that’ll serve him well and others moving forward. In Chewie, Han values the importance of loyalty and friendship. And from a con artist in Lando, Han learns how to play fair and win.
Qi’ra isn’t the woman who’ll turn the “bad boy” around. Rather she sees beneath the scruffy exterior that Han’s nature has always been good from the start. It’s a quality that she admires and protects. Where the two differ is that like a strategic chess player, Qi’ra is thinking many moves in advance. Whereas Han is flying by the seat of his pants. He’s all about jumping from one exciting adventure to another; running towards or away from something.
Knowing what happens to Han in the sequel trilogy puts Solo into perspective. The past events that are depicted for the first time in Solo is shaping the future that we know. The nostalgia is balanced with the idea that nothing stays the same. Still, there’s a charm in seeing again a good old fashion shootout just like in A New Hope as the gang makes a hasty getaway while boarding the Millennium Falcon. There’s also something to be said about classic cowboy ethics: if I shoot first, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me and you’ll be armed. Old, traditional values were valued for a reason and can still have a place in the current era.
It’s a compliment when I say that Alden Ehrenreich’s performance makes me appreciate even more what Harrison Ford brought to the role. The way Han stands, shoots his pistol and grins was all created by Ford. Ehrenreich avoids the trap of merely imitating Ford. He comes across naturally as young Han although not quite with the same effortless appeal of Ford. Woody Harrelson probably doesn’t get enough credit. It’s not a flashy performance, just one that captures all the aspects of a hardened yet still likable criminal very well.
Emilia Clarke is good at conveying Qi’ra’s thoughts and emotions through her eyes. I also like the chemistry between Clarke and Ehrenreich. Their relationship is not electric, it’s a fond friendship with romantic flourishes. Paul Bettany is very good as Dryden Vos, a ruthless crime boss. Donald Glover is great in reprising a famous role, but perhaps a little too on the nose with the mannerisms at times. This isn’t a knock against Glover, just a subjective observation. Apparently 70% of the scenes were quickly reshot by Ron Howard and he used the first or second take which is a big reason why the movie kept its release date.
Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t meant to be as epic and ambitious as the trilogy movies. This might disappoint some fans who may be wanting an all out space battle or cool light saber duels. Another common critique of the film is it takes a while to get going. I enjoy Solo from the beginning but it’s when Chewie is introduced that the movie got going.
The comedic touches have some hits as well as misses. I didn’t make out all of L33T’s robotic dialogue. The lines that I did understand weren’t that funny to me. What I really liked are the character dynamics between Hans, Beckett, Qi’ra and Chewie. Set before the original trilogy started, Solo captures the retro vibe, so I wasn’t expecting the film to bring something entirely new to the table. You can make the case that Solo is about making something old new again. There’s a generation that didn’t grow up with the original trilogy (I know movie fans who haven’t watched them!).
Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers a good old fashion Western in the guise of a sci-fi heist film. Alden Ehrenreich as Han is a solid actor to build this franchise around. Not withstanding lackluster box office numbers, the film leaves indications as to upcoming adventures in a possible sequel. “Creative differences” between the original directors and Lucasfilm likely impeded a distinct vision of the film. While Solo isn’t the most fresh or risk-talking film, the entertaining action, characters and cast performances are enjoyable.